Being able to safely feed your baby “on the move” can add that much more freedom and opportunity for you to get things done, at the same time as providing your infant with your constant touch and comfort which is essential for a healthy thriving baby.
While feeding your infant when babywearing is definitely possible, the La Leche League suggests establishing each one independently before trying to combine them. It is also important to take note of the added safety recommendations suggested when breastfeeding and babywearing together.
There are many different aspects which help make feeding and babywearing together possible. All these important components will be addressed in addition to valuable information gained from a dietician and registered lactation consultant.
Can you breastfeed while baby wearing?
Breastfeeding while wearing your baby in a carrier or sling is certainly possible. While it can be quite challenging to begin with and take some time for both you and baby to get used to, there are definite benefits to it. Many resources as well as mom forums recommend establishing and becoming comfortable with breastfeeding and babywearing on their own first before attempting them together. It will likely require a few attempts before you are successful.
Carey Anne Harmon, a South African registered dietician and lactation consultant recommends giving it a few attempts and trying for at least 3 days before deciding to stop. It is really important that there is no pressure on you and that you are not a failure if you are not able to breastfeed and babywear at the same time as it just means that it is not meant for you.
Can you bottle feed your baby in a sling or carrier?
Bottle feeding your baby while carrying them in a sling or baby carrier can certainly be done. It is really helpful in keeping your infant calm and encouraging a bond and connection with them. This is because babywearing helps facilitate the release of oxytocin which is known as the love hormone.
Why Feed baby in a sling?
Feeding your baby while they are supported in a carrier or sling can be helpful in the following ways:
- You are able to nurse your baby discreetly while out and about as the carrier or sling provides both you and your baby with privacy. This is also useful when you are feeding on demand.
- If your baby is in the carrier with you, you may pick up on your baby’s hungry cues quicker and you can ensure the milk is ready for them.
In addition to the convenience of being able to move around while your baby feeds, there are physiological and hormonal benefits for both you and your baby. Carey Anne Harman, a registered dietician and lactation consultant expanded on these:
- While carrying your baby, they are in a calmer state which promotes digestion and assists them in absorbing breastmilk. This is because when a baby is stressed and crying, blood flows away from their stomach and moves to parts the body sees as critical like their brain, heart and lungs. Therefore there is less blood to transport the nutrients. A baby who is in a more peaceful position will benefit more from their feed.
- A baby who is in a carrier or sling is in the perfect position for them to access the “breastaurant”. It is easy for a mom to slip their baby sideways or drop them a little lower in the carrier to feed in a more upright position.
- One of the other large benefits of babywearing is that you are able to physically feel your baby pushing on you, smell them as well as see them which triggers a hormonal response and promotes bonding and milk production.
- Feeding your baby in an upright position helps with babies who struggle with reflux. Most paediatricians recommend holding your infant upright for 45 minutes after a feed to minimise the effects of reflux. By feeding your baby upright in a carrier, they are already in the optimal position and it is also easier to keep them upright afterwards while still allowing you to move around.
How to keep your baby safe while feeding in a sling or baby carrier:
As with normal baby wearing, there are specific things to be aware of which can make feeding your baby while they are in a carrier safer.
Firstly it is important to realise that feeding your baby in a carrier does not mean you will have both hands free. This is especially true for babies who are younger than 6 months as you will still need to use one hand or arm to support their head and neck until they are able to do so on their own.
Other things to be mindful of each time you feed your baby in a carrier include:
- Making sure that your baby’s nose is free and clear and not covered by anything.
- This is really important because babies find it easier to breathe through their noses.
- Make sure that you can fit at least 2 fingers of space between your baby’s chin and their chest.
- This is the healthiest position for them to nurse in and makes sure their airway remains open
- Keep your baby’s head uncovered while feeding.
- This allows you to view them at all times
- Ensures your baby gets sufficient fresh air
- The sling or carrier should in no way support your baby’s head or reach higher than the bottom of their ear
- This prevents the material from the sling or carrier pushing your baby’s face into you or pushing their chin towards their chest
- This also allows you to gently support their neck while feeding and assist in latching
- Make sure you can hear and listen to your baby’s noises while they feed
- This will help you pick up noises which could indicate your baby is in distress.
Most important is that you lift your baby up and retighten the carrier or sling once they have finished feeding. This must be done even if they are asleep.
How to set your carrier up for feeding?
Feeding your baby is achievable with all types of carriers and slings. The only difference is that some may require more adjustment than others. The choice of carrier may change as your baby grows. It may also take a few trials using different carriers or slings to find one that is most comfortable and meets your needs. In order to feed your baby while they are in a carrier or sling, you will need to lower them so that they are in an optimal position to latch.
Feeding in a Soft Structured Carrier:
It is generally suggested that it is easier to feed you baby in a soft structured carrier when they are slightly bigger and have sufficient head and neck control. Most moms report being more successful feeding like this when their infants are 4 months or older.
To help lower your baby in the carrier you will need to loosen the shoulder strap on the side that you intend feeding on. Always support your baby with one arm while making these adjustments. Some recommendations indicate that you should first loosen the waist strap and lower the carrier it before retightening it while some mothers have pointed out that this step is not always necessary and that by doing so, extra strain is placed on your hips and lower back. Once your baby is in the optimal position to feed it is important to retighten the straps so that your baby is close to you and securely attached. It may take a couple of adjustments to find the best position for both you and baby.
When feeding with a bottle, similar adjustments as described will need to made whilst ensuring that the angle of the bottle does not compromise their breathing. For example, if their chin was too close to their chest. It is frequently mentioned that bottle feeding while in a carrier or sling should only be attempted when your baby has more head and neck control.
Feeding in a Ring Sling:
A ring sling, which is a single piece of woven fabric sewn at the shoulder with large rings, creates a convenient sling to carry your baby in. These types of carriers are often promoted as the best sling for breastfeeding largely due to the fact that they are simple and easy to move up and down. They can however be tricky to get the hang of them when using them to feed your infant.
When loosening the rings to adjust the height of the sling, the weight of your baby’s body must be supported with your other arm. Once the adjustment has been made, it is important to make sure that your arm is fully covered by the shoulder of the sling and that the rings are tightened correctly.
Feeding in a stretchy wrap
Feeding your infant in a stretchy wrap is generally recommended for younger babies up until about 4 months old. However, using this type of carrier when feeding should be done with caution as your young infant does not yet have sufficient neck and head control and are not necessarily able to protect their own airway. It is best to use these wraps solely as a support for your baby and not rely on them to carry your baby completely while feeding especially as you will need to support their neck as you would if you were not using a wrap. In addition, you should take care to fold the fabric on the shoulder nearest to where your infant is feeding away from them to prevent any chance of their nose becoming covered.
When feeding using a wrap, it is important that your baby’s hips and back are supported by all 3 layers of the wrap and that it does not go higher than the bottom of their ears. This ensures that their head is still be able to move freely allowing them to latch and unlatch when necessary.
Many moms recommend rather popping baby out of the wrap without untying it while you feed and then returning them to a safe position in the wrap once they are finished.
How should your baby be positioned in the sling when feeding?
Positioning your baby to breastfeed or bottle feed while in a carrier is similar for both. There are generally two different positions that tend to be used when feeding, both which ensure your baby’s back is suitably supported.
Upright or vertical feeding:
- This is often referred to as the Koala bear hold.
- This is the more commonly used position to feed in for babies who have sufficient head control.
- In this position it is still important that your baby maintain a “frog-like” position in which their knees are higher than their bottom and their hips are bent upwards. The “c” curl of their spine should also be maintained while feeding. Both of these help promote healthy hip and spine development.
- This is the ideal position if your baby struggles with reflux.
- In this position, your baby is on their side with their feet lower than their head.
- This is useful for younger infants as there is more head and neck support for them. It also makes it easier for you to support them.
- It can be difficult to get into this position when using a carrier or wrap.
With both of these positions, it is important that your baby’s is free from any fabric and not at an awkward angle. Their arms and hands should also fall into place as if they were feeding outside of a carrier or sling.
Whether you are using a carrier or a sling for babywearing, always remember to reposition the baby properly once you are done nursing them.
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